Today, our series looking at a theology of welcome through the lens of political engagement in the church continues. Our focus today will be on the frameworks. How can we form a response to this issue? We must be formed by Scripture, theology, and reason in order to make any sound judgments and conclusions.
First, it is interesting to note that we are taking on this series as Tea Party Nation founder Terry Phillips has recently called for an end to the United Methodist Church. This is because the UMC supports policies, Phillips claims, are socialists and, essentially, goes against American values. (Full disclosure: I am a member of the United Methodist Church seeking ordination as an elder in the Kentucky Annual Conference.) Phillips’ comments shows why we, in the church, need to have a theology of welcome and response to those whom we disagree with politically, as well as to those whom we may align ourselves with politically.
Now, onto today’s discussion.
A Framework of Response: Moving from Political Exclusion to Political Embrace
How do we as Christians who are concerned about issues of hospitality and welcome interact with this issue of exclusion simply because we may disagree politically? What does it mean for us to love those with whom we disagree, as Christ called us to?
To do so requires us to move from a position of excluding others simply because we think or believe differently into a posture of embracing and dialoguing with the other. When we can move in this direction, it opens the door for true Christian hospitality and welcome in the political arena to take place.
In order to move from a position of exclusion into embrace, we have to recognize what it means to welcome someone in Christian love. To offer hospitality and welcome means to enter into friendships.
We seek relationships and friendships with others and recognize that it is possible that we can learn something from them.
For this to take place, we must recognize that as Christians, as children of God, we are all members of the household of God. We all share in the communion and fellowship of the Triune God, so our reactions to others, especially as it relates to disagreement in terms of beliefs in politics, should “reflect God’s gracious welcome.”
God welcomed us in our condition of sin and embraced us as God’s own children, thus we are called to respond in that same love to all, as 1 John reminds us.
What does this look like? What does it look like to show God’s welcome in terms of political thought? We can get an idea of this by applying Volf’s ideas of embrace. To engage the Christians who are involved in the political process means to create space for potential dialogue among other political viewpoints to exist.
To welcome another Christian who has a different political view than we do requires that we desire to seek relationship with the other. We must be willing to move beyond our comfortability of perspective and embrace the potential of dialogue with someone whom may be opposite of us politically. In order for true dialogue to take place, the political opposite must be willing to engage the other as well.
For someone in the Religious Left to have true dialogue with the Religious Right, the person from the Religious Right must want that dialogue to occur as well. This element of reciprocity is crucial in welcome. Once both agree, the dialogue – or full embrace – can take place.
After the dialogue, it is hoped that both the member of the Religious Right and the Religious Left would go back and interact within the political realm with a deeper value of the other’s position and appreciation of welcoming the other based on this dialogue.
Scripture provides help in the formation of a framework in responding to exclusion based on political perspective. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus calls Matthew, a tax collector, to follow Christ and become his disciple.
After this calling, Jesus was invited by Matthew to have dinner in his home. It would be the modern equivalent of Jesus eating with a member of Congress today. The Pharisees, seeing this, asked Jesus’ disciples “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
Instead of getting angry or defensive, Jesus said, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices. For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.’”
Jesus responded with respect and love, while challenging the position of the Pharisees. If more of our reactions in the political world were like Christ’s, perhaps we would not have the problem that this paper has attempted to deal with.